January 2023 – South Africa’s top ranked Kyra van Kan began 2022 with a sixth-place finish in the SA Women’s Stroke Play Championship and a runner-up finish in the SA Women’s Amateur Championship and the 16-year-old teenage golf prodigy never let up, capping a watershed season with her fifth victory in the KwaZulu-Natal Junior Championship in December.
Van Kan supported her upward trajectory with no less than six runner-up finishes on the local circuit, while also flying the flag for South Africa four times on the international stage.
Making her debut this January in the Hilton Grand Vacations ANNIKA Invitational presented by Rolex in Florida, Kyra holds the No 1 position on both the GolfRSA Open Amateur and Junior Rankings.
We chatted with the GolfRSA National Squad standout about her first international experiences abroad last year, her goals for this season and the secrets to her success in 2022.
GolfRSA: Kyra, congratulations on a phenomenal season with so many highlights, and the crowning moment must be winning the Gilly Tebbutt Trophy as the leading Open Amateur for 2022 at the end of the SA Women’s Inter-Provincial. Have you had any time to reflect on this achievement?
KVK: Yes, the feeling is amazing. It is a surreal feeling to know that I have achieved such a special award. Winning the Gilly Tebbutt trophy really means the world to me because all the long hours and hard work that I put into my golf has finally paid off. I am extremely honoured to have my name on a trophy award alongside so many great golfers.
GolfRSA: You won the Ekurhuleni Open and Junior Championships, the Mpumalanga Women’s Open, the KwaZulu-Natal Amateur Women’s Golf Championship and the KwaZulu-Natal Junior Championships in 2022, and only finished outside the top five twice. This speaks to a greater level of consistency – what has been the change for you to get to this point?
KVK: Before the golf season started, I set myself a list of goals that I wanted to achieve in 2022.
These goals included placing in the top five, but as the year progressed and playing numerous tournaments, I did not pressure myself to do well and did not focus on where I would finish in the tournament.
I just took each hole on the course one at a time. I went out there, relaxed and trusted myself. The more tournaments you play, the more confident you will feel and begin to realize your full potential.
I enjoy tournaments; I adore the feeling of butterflies you have when you stand on the first tee box or even the pressure you experience on the last hole when you are leading a tournament. Having a clear mindset and being surrounded by nature is what makes me feel calm and collected on the golf course.
GolfRSA: There was quite a bit of international travel on your agenda, too. You were a member of the winning GolfRSA Junior Protea team at the 2022 All Africa Junior Golf Championship, you represented South Africa in the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup in Japan, and you played in two tournaments – the St Andrews Junior Girls Open and the R&A Girls Amateur – in Scotland. What was it like to test yourself on the international stage and what did you enjoy the most?
KVK: The international travels I have had this year were unforgettable experiences.
The All Africa Junior Golf Championship, held in Egypt, was my first international experience and putting on the green blazer for the first time put the brightest smile on my face because this was one of my biggest dreams.
This trip was my favourite of the year because it was so much fun, and I experienced a different country along with their beautiful culture. Being in the desert, the golf course was remarkably interesting because there was no thick grass, just sand everywhere.
Team South Africa brought home the gold! I thoroughly enjoyed making new friends and having my team as a family when we travelled. The food in Egypt was divine, some of which were the best meals I have eaten, and you cannot experience food like that in South Africa. On the last day of our trip, we were in the desert, and we went to see the Pyramids of Giza, which was the highlight of my trip.
Next up, was the big one – the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup. It was a long trip to Japan, around forty hours of flying, bus riding and layovers. When we finally arrived at Cocopa Resort and Golf Course, everything about the place was indescribably perfect.
The golf course was in the best condition. When the tournament rolled around it was a wakeup call for me. I played with some of the top ranked girls in the world and realised how good my competition was. I asked the girls I played with a lot of questions, wondering how they got here to this impeccable level of golf. The tournament taught me a few lessons such as to not come to a big event such as this one with extremely grand expectations.
This trip was a long time away from home and my family. I learnt from this how to depend on myself more and trust the decisions I make. I needed to control my mindset more on the course because I did not really know anybody besides my teammates. But I soon made good friends from Canada and Colombia. The weather in Japan was very humid compared to Egypt, and it rained for a few of the days while we were there.
One of my highlights from the trip was playing Table Tennis against an Olympic gold medallist and getting a single point. But what I will most certainly not forget is having sushi on my plate every night.
My most memorable trip was playing at the Home of Golf in Scotland. I went with fellow National Squad player Gabbi Venter, and we became very close on that trip because it was just Gabbi, President Sarah Braude from Womens Golf South Africa and myself.
Entering the town of St Andrews gave me goosebumps because it was such a magical place and I felt so fortunate to represent my country there. Unfortunately, my first tournament in Scotland felt like a bump in the road as I missed the cut and could not proceed to the Matchplay. However, I got to watch Gabbi lift the trophy and I could not have been happier for her.
We celebrated by eating an entire tub of Haagen Daaz ice cream that night. The conditions in Scotland were very tough, especially when the wind picked up. If the wind started to blow, you will suddenly discover parts of the golf course you did not know were there.
I quickly learnt how to hit low shots and control the ball under the wind and that would be essential at my next tournament at Carnoustie Golf Links. On the way to Carnoustie, we would blast Harry Styles and that would prepare us for the day. I felt more confident heading into the R&A as I knew what to expect from the last tournament. However, this tournament was even more intense than the last.
I learnt that this was what European golf was all about – focusing on your own game. We were lucky enough to go watch a bit of the golf at the AIG Women’s Open. Gabbi and I were swooning over Nelly Korda and were fortunate enough to get a picture with her. We walked around the course and watched Ashleigh Buhai play phenomenal golf.
I have always seen Ashleigh as a role model, so watching her win the tournament was unreal. I felt like a brand-new golfer when I left Scotland because of how much I grew in my golf. The Scottish experience really changed my life and my perspective of the game. The opportunities GolfRSA gave me this year were incredible, and I am forever grateful.
GolfRSA: You are starting the 2023 season ranked first on the GolfRSA Open and Junior standings… apart from obviously protecting your ranking, what other goals have you set yourself for next year?
KVK: I would like to do well in the big tournaments such as SA Women’s Amateur and the two Nomads SA Girls events, presented by Sun International. Those are the tournaments that really mean the most to me so I will be working hard to succeed in them. I would also like to make more international trips because they really help you grow as a golfer.
GolfRSA: These days, golfers need to have a solid team around them. Who do you work with?
KVK: I have been fortunate enough to have had a lot of people work with me and help me to succeed but I could not do it without my family.
My family is my anchor and without their support I would not have achieved what I have. My dad (John van Kan) has never left my side and has always backed me through both challenging and terrific times. My coach, Fanie Viljoen, is my best friend at my home club, and he has changed my game and mindset. Fanie puts a smile on my face every day.
My home club, Glendower, and their special members have been incredible with all their help, and I have appreciated all their support throughout this year. I am also fortunate to have Srixon Golf South Africa look after me. Their golf clubs, gloves, hats, and balls are brilliant, and I enjoy using all their equipment which has improved every aspect of my game.
GolfRSA: In terms of the state of your game right now, is there anything specific you want to work on to improve?
KVK: There is always something to work on with golf, but I try to practice every day to get better in all parts of my game. I dedicate every afternoon to work on my golf game.
I intend to play a few Sunshine Ladies Tour events in 2023 as I always learn something new from the pros. It is special playing alongside them. I admire how relaxed they are when they play. The pros always know how to recover well after a bad shot and stay in the moment. I have met nice people from the events who have taught me how to use yardage books and shared valuable information about the tournament. It is also good to compare your golf and where you are to the pros.
GolfRSA: You guys played two of the best true links courses in Scotland – Carnoustie and St Andrews – and you must have gained some important insight during this campaign. Can you share some of your experience with us?
KVK: Both Scottish golf courses were quite different compared to the ones in South Africa. They were very much like playing in winter and littered with plenty of bunkers. One does not want to be in a bunker in Scotland because it is nearly impossible to get out of them. Some of them are three times my height.
Before I left for Scotland, I had to learn how to hit the ball low. You need to hit a lot of punches under the wind. The shots I had to play in Scotland were quite unusual to the ones I would play at home, like putting from off the green. The competition was fierce at Carnoustie and playing against the international golfers gave me more confidence when I came back home. The tournaments were run professionally, and the locals were all so friendly with a lot of knowledge to share. My teammate, Gabbi Venter and manager, Sarah Braude, were extremely helpful as after every round we would reflect and chat about the action on course. Playing the two best courses in Scotland was such a treat and changed me as a player.
GolfRSA: You are now one of the senior members of the National Squad, having come up through the ranks. With so many young, new members coming into the squad this year, do you feel like you are also taking on a mentorship role?
KVK: I was 14 when I joined the National Squad and I always looked up to senior players and their recognition always meant so much to me. Having to take on that role is special. I will always try to share and teach some of the younger girls because I was once in their position. So, it is important to me to help the younger girls out. I love sharing my perspective of things to other girls. I do not mind sharing my experiences with younger girls. Learning from older players helps you to develop into a better player.
My all-time favourite movie is The Dictator or Happy Gilmore.
My favourite food is pasta.
My favourite music right now is Pop music.
The motto I live by is: Is what you are doing right now going to help you achieve your goals?
Two of my favourite actors are Gal Gadot and Kevin Hart.
Things I love are flowers, the beach, family, and friends.
My top tournaments to watch are The Masters, and The Open Championship.
The weirdest thing I have ever eaten was haggis in Scotland.
The three top things on my bucket list are to play Augusta National, complete a marathon and travel with my best friend.
If I got stuck on an island, the three things I would wish for is a house, a close friend, and a personal chef.